I was watching a couple of hour-long documentary programs the other day; one about the McDonnell Douglas F-15, and the other about the Fairchild A-10. There are or have been several aviation documentary series that focus on military aircraft. There are episodes on transport aircraft like the Boeing 747. Occasionally a series will dip into General Aviation to highlight a business jet like the Gulfstream (or in Donald Trump’s case, a 757 – which is transport category but is used as a bizjet). What I don’t see are any series that focus on ‘little airplanes’.
There are plenty of General Aviation airplanes and companies for a series, and IMO they’re just as interesting as the kerosene-burners. And GA airplanes are accessible to the public. Take the Cessna 172 Skyhawk as an example. More of them have been built than any other airplane. Ever. Using the formula typical of the series that focus on the ‘fast-movers’, the show could show a current aircraft and then use archival footage to talk about the development*. Then it can go into they myriad ways the airplane is and has been used, and its place in the world today. Following the formula, currently-produced airplanes like the Cessna 172 and the Piper PA-28 would end with something like ‘And the venerable airplane is still plying the skies [blahblahblah].’ Planes that are no longer in production would end with something like ‘Though the last Piper J-3 Cub rolled off the assembly lines in 1947, there are thousands of them still flying and virtual clones are being produced.’ With Cessna, Piper, Maule, Beechcraft, Aeronca, Mooney, Ryan, Bellanca, Grumman, Alon, and others, you can have a whole series by focusing on just one airplane from each manufacturer.
I’d certainly watch such a series. Would you?
- Development example
[spoiler]Tagging this for people who aren’t really interested.
After WWII airplane manufacturers expected a boom in General Aviation, and there was a lot of competition. Piper brought out the Tri-Pacer in 1952, which had a nose wheel that made it easier to land. Cessna brought out the 172 in 1956. The 172 was the popular 170 model with the main gear moved aft and a nosewheel added. They called it their ‘Land-O-Matic’ undercarriage. The 170 had a round tail, and Cessna was going to put a square tail on the 170C. They never made the 170C, since they but the tricycle landing gear on what would have been the 170C and called it the 172. Over 60 years there has been a lot of development on the Skyhawk, which served/serves in the private flying role, flight instruction, commercial operations, and military operations. And the 172 led Piper to drop the Tri-Pacer in favour of an entirely new design – the Cherokee. Each decade had various social, economic, engineering, and marketing factors that are interesting to people who are into aviation. Piper, Cessna and Beechcraft spearheaded the switch from conventional gear to tricycle gear. And the Alon Ercoupe was designed as an un-stallable airplane that anyone could fly. It didn’t even have rudder pedals.
So right there you have an episode of the most popular airplane of all time, and another one about its chief rival. Plus the other airplanes that were coming out after the war.[/spoiler]